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What Happens When we Die?

“The more people engage and understand death and know where it’s heading … the better prepared the person is to be able to let go to the process, and the better prepared the family is to reconcile with it, for a more peaceful death.”

Associate Professor Mark Boughey, director of palliative medicine at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital.

What are the earliest signs a person is going to die?

“The point of no return, when a person begins deteriorating towards their final breath, can start weeks or months before someone dies.”

Refractory symptoms (stubborn and irreversible symptoms despite medical treatment) offer the earliest signs that the dying process is beginning:

    • breathlessness
    • severe appetite and weight loss
    • fluid retention
    • fatigue
    • drowsiness
    • delirium
    • jaundice and nausea
    • overall drop in physical function

    “The journey for everyone towards dying is so variable,”

    Professor Boughey

    • sleep-wake patterns more random
    • coughing and swallowing reflexes slower
    • response is less to verbal commands and gentle touch
    • confusion, disorientation
    • visions, hallucinations
    • consciousness may begin to fluctuate
    • body temperature can begin to seesaw
    • senses of taste and smell diminish
    • urine and bowel movements become less frequent
    • urine will be much darker than usual due to lower fluid intake
    • incontinence

    What happens when death is just hours or minutes away?

    Some people experience:

      • breathing changes: slowing, speeding up, irregular
      • a gurgle-like “death rattle.” “It’s really some secretions sitting in the back of the throat, and the body can no longer shift them.”
      • restlessness (nearly 1/2 of all people who are dying)
      • skinĀ  mottled or pale grey-blue, particularly on the knees, feet and hands
      • perspiration or clamminess may be present
      • person’s eyes begin to tear or appear glazed over.


    …better understanding the dying process can help us stop treating death as a medical problem to be fixed, and instead as an inevitability that should be as comfortable and peaceful as possible.

    University of New South Wales Professor of Intensive Care Ken Hillman

    What does a dead person look like?

      • breathing no longer seen
      • color change
      • fixed pupils
      • skin may be waxy, pale-looking

      Only very occasionally will there be an unpleasant occurrence, such as a person vomiting or releasing their bowels

      In most cases, death is peaceful.

      Read more of this excellent article on death.

      From Sophie Aubrey – Stuff (New Zeland) – Aug 20 2019

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